There Are No New Ideas Part 2: Politics and the English Language

In this blog series, I visit some old (and I mean old) literature to illustrate how ideas of knowledge mobilization and research impact have very deep roots. Part 2 looks at an essay by George Orwell from 1946 (yes, 70 years ago) which makes the case for clear language. Orwell advises writers to use “the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning”.

George Orwell

George Orwell

Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English Language. https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm 

The essay provides five examples of less than clear language and it is important to note that three of the five are from scholarly sources. Each of these examples uses two common qualities that contribute to unclear language: staleness of imagery and lack of precision. Orwell states that,

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not….prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse

Short words not long phrases contribute to clear communication. Orwell uses what he calls “modern English” to re-write an excerpt from Ecclesiastics

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness….The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek.

The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness”. Orwell issues a call for using clear words to clearly express meaning. He points out how phrases have replaced words such as,

Break: render inoperative

Protest: militate against

Touch: make contact with

Cause: give rise to

Usually: exhibit a tendency to

We are also making grammar more complicated.

The passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining)

He also claims that the “attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption’ that than to say ‘I think’.”

Is this sounding familiar, especially to those trained in clear language writing and design principles? Orwell points out that:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself…Could I put it more shortly?” And “Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

He creates further parameters to guide writing in clear language:

 (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

While not at the end of the essay, I think the essay can be summed up by his statement, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”.  By this he means that we should “make pretentiousness unfashionable” by paying attention to our meaning and make it as clear as possible by making it as short as possible and avoiding anything ugly.

All of this should resonate with knowledge mobilization practitioners seeking to translate the results of research into clear language.

For more on clear language, see our paper on the ResearchSnapshot clear language research summary format. You can also full text search the online database of research summaries.

Read the rest of this blog series:

There Are No New Ideas Part 1: Scholarship and Social Agitation

There Are No New Ideas Part 3: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

The Co-Produced Pathway To Impact / La Trajectoire D’impact Codéterminée

York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit regularly publishes peer reviewed articles on various aspects of institutional knowledge mobilization. The most recent publication describes a pathway from research to impact that can be used by research organizations seeking to monitor their projects as they progress towards impact.

 

L’Unité de mobilisation des connaissances de York produit régulièrement des articles scientifiques sur différents aspects de la mise en application du savoir universitaire. Sa publication la plus récente décrit un itinéraire permettant de passer de la recherche à l’impact, au moyen d’une démarche que les organismes de recherche peuvent employer pour superviser la progression de leurs projets vers l’impact souhaité.

 

Research impact is dominated by a few major frameworks including the Payback Model and the Knowledge to Action Cycle. The Payback Model was used as the basis for the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) Research Impact Assessment Framework which itself was antecedent of the Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS) impact assessment framework. The Knowledge to Action Cycle isn’t a good model for monitoring progress to impact in an organization since it was never meant to describe actions of a single organization. Payback (and hence CAHS and AIHS) separate the research (at the beginning) from impact (at the end) and do not embed collaboration throughout the research something that we know is key to mediating impact. Neither creates an explicit role for the end beneficiary (i.e. the patient) as part of the process.

 

The co-produced pathway to impact addresses some of these limitations. It mirrors the 5 stage model of CAHS/AIHS but it embeds collaboration at every stage. It also articulates some of the benefits accruing at each stage of the pathway that informs the choices of specific indicators. The pathway can be used as a model for policy impacts, commercial impacts and practice impacts but in all cases the end user (“citizens served” = patient, consumer, public) is embedded in the impact stage and thus engaged upstream in the design of the research phase by way of the feedback loop from impact back to research.

CPPI from JCES

But here is the most significant contribution of this model. Check out the arrow pointing to impact. Impact is a function of non-academic partners not researchers. Researchers don’t make products, business partners do. Researchers don’t develop public policies, government partners do. And researchers generally don’t deliver social services, community partners do. Non-academic partners use the research evidence to inform products, policies and services that then have an impact on the lives of end beneficiaries. Therefore, to collect the evidence of impact you need to ask the non-academic partner not the academic researcher.

 

Published in the Journal of Community Engagement & Scholarship the pathway was illustrated by co-produced projects from the bullying prevention knowledge mobilization network PREVNet. It is this element of co-production throughout the pathway from research to impact that differentiates the co-produced pathway to impact from the other models which separate the research from the impact.

 

In addition to PREVNet, the co–produced pathway to impact is being used by some large research networks including NeuroDevNet and AllerGen as their impact framework. But it is only a model. It serves as a template that can be adapted and made specific to each project’s stakeholders, partners, research and activities all of which drive the choice of unique indicators to monitor the progress from research to impact. So enjoy your journey (with your academic and non-academic partners) from research to impact because now you have a map to guide you. The reference for the article is:

 

Phipps, D.J., Cummings, J. Pepler, D., Craig, W. and Cardinal, S. (2016) The Co-Produced Pathway to Impact describes Knowledge Mobilization Processes. J. Community Engagement and Scholarship, 9(1): 31-40.

There Are No New Ideas Part 1: Scholarship and Social Agitation

In this blog series I visit some old (and I mean old) literature to illustrate how ideas of knowledge mobilization and research impact have very deep roots. Part 1 looks at a paper from 1896 (yes, 120 years ago) making the case that social science scholars have an obligation to create impacts beyond the academy. This is summarized in the last sentence, “May American scholarship never so narrow itself to the interests of scholars that it shall forfeit its primacy among the interests of men!”

Picture of the articleSmall, A. W. (1896). Scholarship and social agitation. American Journal of Sociology, 1(5), 564-582. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2761906

This article was written by the founding chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago and appeared in the first volume of the American Journal of Sociology. It’s certainly not written in clear language and refers only to “men”,

I cannot wonder that hard-headed men of affairs have nothing but contempt for those garrulous peddlers of reform programmes who can find no fallacies in the postulates upon which industrial and political administration is based, but declare implacable feud with the consequences of the postulates (Page 571)

There are many pages devoted to the author’s illustration of his thesis using distinctions between ownership and proprietorship of property…but that’s not the point of this post. 120 years ago he was advocating many of the knowledge mobilization messages we advocate today. Early on in the article he links scholarship to impact (which I love he calls “something better than science”) which he describes as the endeavour to realize the vision derived from social science scholarship and link “thought with action”,

let us go about our business with the understanding that within the scope of scholarship there is first science, and second something better than science. That something better is first prevision by means of science, and second intelligent direction of endeavor to realize the vision.

I would have American scholars, especially in the social sciences, declare their independence of do-nothing traditions. I would have them repeal the law of custom which bars marriage of thought with action. I would have them become more profoundly and sympathetically scholarly by enriching the wisdom which comes from knowing with the larger wisdom which comes from doing.

He claims that scholarship must not just be a recorder of history but must also have an activist (the social agitation of the title of the article) aim looking to the future,

Scholarship must either abandon claims to the function of leadership, and accept the purely clerical r6le of recording and classifying the facts of the past, or scholarship must accept the responsibility of prevision and prophecy and progress.

The author closes the loop between scholarship and the public as end beneficiaries and also points to the responsibilities of institutions to support these endeavours “in larger and larger proportions”,

These conditions are the setting of the urgent problems that confront today’s men. Scholars are shirkers unless they grapple with these problems. It is for this that society supports us. We are presumed to be exponents of the higher excellencies of thought and action. We are expected to hold up ideals of the best, to guide the endeavors of the masses of men. It is squandering money to put more endowments into the keeping of educational institutions that are not devoting their energies in larger and larger proportion to search for solution of these moral problems.

The author also makes these efforts a moral obligation (“betrayal of his social trust”) and links social scholarship to community benefit,

I content myself with saying that scholars might exalt both their scholarship and their citizenship by claiming an active share in the work of perfecting and applying plans and devices for social improvement and amelioration. It is not only betrayal of his social trust, it is surrender of the best elements of his professional opportunity, for the sociological scholar to withdraw from affairs…If men will be the most productive scholars in any department of the social sciences, let them gain time and material by cooperating in the social work of their community.

The article ends with an appeal to social scholars to break out of the traditional patterns of scholarship,

It is timely to proclaim a different ideal for American scholars from that which has dominated the learned world for the last fifty years. May American scholarship never so narrow itself to the interests of scholars that it shall forfeit its primacy among the interests of men!

He says it is time to change from the patterns of the last 50 years. And that was 120 years ago! Is that really the pace of change in academics and academic institutions that are only now starting to turn attention to supporting these “energies in larger and larger proportion”? For more on this see “Changing a 600 year old business”.

120 years and academic researchers are now, finally, starting to listen (thank you @JulieEBayley)?

Read the rest of this blog series:

There Are No New Ideas Part 2: Politics and the English Language

There Are No New Ideas Part 3: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

 

Knowledge Mobilization Summer School – August 15-17, Carleton University, Ottawa

This post first appeared on the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization website and is reposted here with permission. For full details about the KMb Summer School, click here.

Knowledge Mobilization Summer School – 2nd Annual, Carleton University, Ottawa

August 15 @ 8:00 am – August 17 @ 5:00 pm EDT | $452

Please save the dates of August 15-17, 2016 for the 2nd Annual Knowledge Mobilization Summer School at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

What is the KMb Summer School? Three days of learning and skill development in the field of knowledge mobilization.  Hands-on workshops and networking with professionals will provide a unique opportunity for early career  KMb individuals to develop a solid foundation of understanding of the key principles of KMb, collaboration, stakeholder engagement, and evaluation.

Who should attend? Early career professionals working in the area of Knowledge Mobilization or Knowledge Translation and Transfer; this includes researchers, knowledge brokers, research facilitators, and graduate students.  Participants will come from a broad cross-section of organizations such as universities, not-for-profit organizations, research institutions, government agencies, National Centres of Excellence, and industry.

Where will the KMb Summer School take place? In 2016, we are pleased to offer this institute at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.  Accommodations are available at nearby hotels, inns, hostels or via AirBnB.

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks will be provided.

Cost: $400 + HST = $452.00 – (registration open)

Includes three days of:

  • instruction from leading Knowledge Mobilization practitioners and scholars
  • support materials
  • expert keynote speaker
  • dinner on Tuesday evening
  • breakfast
  • break snacks
  • lunch

Agenda:

Day 1 – 15 August 2016

1) Morning Session: Knowledge Mobilization 101
Peter Norman Levesque, KSJ, President, Institute for Knowledge Mobilization

Knowledge mobilization is an umbrella term that captures multiple practices and has significant history. This session provides a baseline of historical developments that have led to the current state of practice.  We will also unbundle some of the confusion around the 90+ multiple terms used for moving the best of what we collectively know into what we do.  Key readings and resources will be provided to participants.

2) Afternoon Session: Knowledge Mobilization @ Work
Facilitated Invited Panel of practitioners, policy-makers and researchers

Facilitator, Shawna Reibling, Knowledge Mobilization Officer, Wilfrid Laurier University

Evening: Open Socialization with peers

Day 2 – 16 August 2016

3) Morning Session: Process Mapping
Kate Wetherow, Knowledge Management Specialist, Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA)

Process mapping can be used for greater collaboration and consensus with staff teams. Rooted in LEAN, a business methodology for process improvement, this session will look at how you can improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of key processes, build capacity and enhance creativity by freeing time to focus on priority work. This includes visual management strategies, tools and techniques.

4) Afternoon Session: Innovation to Implementation
Liz Wigfull, Manager, Knowledge Exchange,  Mental Health Commission of Canada

There is a substantial gap from the time new knowledge is created to when it is put into practice. The field of Knowledge Translation (KT) has emerged as a response to this gap. The Innovation to Implementation (I2I) guide is a how-to resource for driving change using KT activities. The guide illustrates how to move from innovation to implementation in a thoughtful manner to achieve the desired outcomes of a project or initiative.

Evening: Dinner in Byward Market or Ottawa River Cruise

http://www.byward-market.com/en/about/aboutus_index.htm

http://www.capitalcruises.ca/en/index.html

Day 3 – 17 August 2016

5) Morning Session: The art and science of influence: mobilizing compassion and behavioural economics
Harry Stefanakis, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

When mobilizing knowledge, it is important to consider the recipient’s capacity to receive and act on the knowledge. Without understanding some basic human biases in how we think our communication can have unintended consequences. This session focuses on understanding how to cultivate contexts that open space for possibility and change through compassionate based processes and how to respectfully nudge or influence recipients towards life affirming choices.

6) Afternoon Session: Design Thinking and Telling the Data Story
Creativity is to innovation what necessity is to invention. It leads to social change (built on the past/present) and transformation (creation of the future). In order for change to happen though, a story needs to be told…information needs to be mobilized to those who will make the best use of it. In other words, we need to have data and we need to be compelling in how we present it. Using IBM’s design thinking principles to inspire our creativity, we will unleash the power that data has in storytelling.

The hosts at Carleton have provided some suggested accommodations for those that are budget conscious:

Name: Cost per night: Extra info.
HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel75 Nicholas Street, Ottawa

613-235-2595

http://www.hihostels.ca/Ontario/1166/HI-Ottawa-Jail.hostel

$ 34.00-36.00 (dorm style)$ 40.00-92.00 (single private room) *Includes breakfast, note that bathrooms are shared for each room type.
Ottawa Backpackers Inn203 York Street, Ottawa

613-241-3402

http://ottawahostel.com/

$ 26.00-35.00 (dorm style)$ 60.00-100.00 (single room) *On-site kitchen facilities, free coffee and tea, coin laundry
Barefoot Hostel89 Daly Avenue, Ottawa

613-237-0335

http://www.barefoothostel.com/

$ 34.00 and up (dorm style rooms only)*For private rooms see their sister hotel, The Swiss Hotel below. *Microwave access, tea and coffee, outdoor patio
Business Inn180 Maclaren Street, Ottawa

613-232-1121

http://thebusinessinn.com/

Approx. $ 95.00 *Kitchen suite options available

York Leads Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum to a New Level of Excellence

This post originally appeared in YFile on July 6, 2016 and is reposted here with permission.

York University hosted the fifth annual Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum (CKF16) on June 28 and 29.

By all standards this was the largest and most comprehensive gathering of knowledge mobilization scholars, students and practitioners in the world, said David Phipps, executive director of research and innovation, York University.

Participants gathered for the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum, which was hosted by York University

Participants gathered for the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum, which was hosted by York University

York University hosted this year’s forum as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, which located in the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation.

The forum, the only venue in Canada and the largest in the world, brings together the scholarship and the practice of knowledge mobilization across all disciplines. Some 232 registrants attended the forum, which had more than $50,000 in sponsorship. Participants came from across Canada and the United States, and from the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The hashtag #CKF16 trended on Twitter in Canada on both June 28 and 29. There were some 80 presentations, performances and posters.

Michael Johnny

Michael Johnny

“The Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum is the premier event for knowledge mobilization in the world,” said Robert Haché, vice-president, Research & Innovation at York University. “Hosting this year’s forum is testament to York’s international reputation for knowledge mobilization.”

Michael Johnny, manager of York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, chaired CKF16, and led a program committee that included Krista Jensen, York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Officer and partners from Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, Bloorview Kids Rehab, Hospital for Sick Children, Treasury Board Secretariat of the Ontario Public Service.

“Michael Johnny and his entire team put together an exemplary program of content describing knowledge mobilization research, practice, theory, methods and tools,” said Peter Levesque, president of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization. “The outstanding response from the Canadian and global community is a result of Michael’s leadership this year and reflects York’s leadership over the last 10 years.”

Examples of knowledge mobilization research and practice shared at the forum came from research areas that included mental health and addictions, agriculture, the Arctic, Aboriginal issues, gambling, education, housing, social services and many other disciplines. Representatives shared their stories, tools and methods they used to maximize the economic, social and environmental impacts of research.

David Phipps, centre, watches the proceedings

David Phipps, centre, watches the proceedings

The Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum was started in 2011 by the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization and has since been hosted in Ottawa, Mississauga, Saskatoon and last year in Montreal drawing 172 registrants. Next year the forum will return to Ottawa as part of celebrations to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary.

What I Thought Knowledge Mobilization Would Look Like 5 Years Ago

At the 1st Annual Knowledge Mobilization Forum I looked into my crystal ball and predicted what the field would look like in five years. Now, five years later, it’s time to check in and see if my predictions bore any similarity to reality.

David Phipps at CKF12

David Phipps at CKF12

At the first Knowledge Mobilization Forum held in Ottawa in 2012, I gave a keynote address that included a gazing forward to imagine where the field would be in five years. I also took suggestions from the audience and improvised responses based on those suggestions. The audience predictions fell into three broad themes: culture & practice, impact & outcomes, networks & systems. You can read about those predictions in the report of the first Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum starting on page 15.

Many of my predictions have come to pass and the majority of audience predictions have either happened or are in progress. From my list the prediction that remains unfulfilled (marked in red below) concerns evidence based knowledge mobilization practice. We have lots of evidence about knowledge mobilization yet many researchers fail to mobilize their knowledge mobilization evidence to knowledge mobilization practitioners. Some exceptions are Vicky Ward who makes her scholarship accessible on her blog, John Lavis’ team who do a good job providing his research in alternative formats on the McMaster Health Forum and Melanie Barwick who actively supports capacity building of knowledge mobilization practitioners in her evidence based SKTT and KTPC courses.

Similarly many (I dare to say most) knowledge mobilization practitioners are aware there is an evidence base but do not engage actively with that evidence nor do we often form partnerships with knowledge mobilization researchers.

Collectively we remain knowledge hypocrites, something that hasn’t changed since the first Knowledge Mobilization Forum.

Reflecting on the audience predictions that have not come to pass (see below):

  • I do not believe we can easily differentiate between “good KT” and “Bad KT”. I think we agree on certain principles of KT (build trust, understand context, build capacity, engage stakeholders, etc.) but how we do those varies in each context. It is thus hard to say what is “good” and what is “bad” since how to build trust well in one context may not work in another context.
  • I have no idea if we are seeing impacts sooner. It has been reported that KT interventions produce either unclear or minimal benefit but I am not aware of evidence that KT is speeding up the time it takes to move research into practice/policy.
  • I do not believe we spend enough time building capacity of non-academic partners (including community partners) to engage as authentic partners in the research to impact journey. If partners are key to generating impacts (see here and here) then we need to spend time building their capacity engage with research(ers) and researchers’ capacity to engage with partners and their evidence/expertise.

See below for where we are in 2016 and where we thought we would be back in 2012:

 

Topic In 2012 In 2016 Comments
K* as a profession Yes Yes OPS has a +130 member CoP; many organizations are hiring KMb positions
Training for K* Sort of Yes Melanie Barwick as KTPC and SKTT; iKMb and KT Canada each have a summer school; many grad courses in knowledge mobilization.
Social Media

 

5-10 years Sort of Ubiquitous for dissemination, some channels (i.e. LinkedIn) for discussion but not yet using for engagement; ethics of capturing data from social media unclear
Systems and networks Yes Yes RIR planning for international connections; UKKMb Forum 2015 initiated a global CoP conversation
Single term No No I don’t think it matters but others do
Evaluation No Sort of We have greater appreciation of methods of research impact assessment and how planning for KMb establishes who to collect the evidence of impact but not in wide practice
KMb evidence informed practice & vice versa Yes No Some, but few, KT researchers engage with and mobilize their outputs to KT practitioners. Many practitioners are aware there is evidence behind their practice but aren’t able to critique the evidence
Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum Yes Yes CKF16 was a resounding success with 232 registrants, 80 submissions of content, $50K in sponsorship

 

Audience suggestions that have come to pass:

  • New structures dedicated to KMb
  • Brokers in and out of universities
  • Established a well-known KM channel
  • Cross sectional, cross discipline relationships
  • Credibility (as a valid profession) and be Cross-cutting (from multiple disciplines)
  • Establish a global knowledge network to connect knowledge producers, researchers, end-users,

Audience suggestions that have not come to pass:

  • Ability to differentiate “good KTs” vs. “bad KTs”
  • See impacts sooner
  • Expanded community capacity to engage in research

Audience suggestions that are in progress:

  • More KT-driven legislation and more examples of evidence-based medicine
  • Return on investments from KT
  • Clarity (distinction from communication)
  • Establish the KMb galactic empire
Participants of CKF12

Participants of CKF12

 

Strengthening impact through people. Or ‘Why REF is like your mother in law’ / Augmenter l’impact grâce aux personnes, ou Pourquoi le Research Excellence Framework (REF, organisme d’évaluation de la recherche universitaire au R.-U.) ressemble un peu à une belle-mère

Julie Bayley (Coventry University, UK) is collaborating with David Phipps (RIR-York) under a Fellowship from the Association of Commonwealth Universities. They are working on competencies for knowledge brokers and the new concept of “impact literacy”. This first appeared on Julie’s blog on June 22, 2016

Julie Bayley (Coventry University, R.-U.) et David Phipps (RIR-York) sont cochercheurs, boursiers de l’Association of Commonwealth Universities. Ils s’intéressent aux compétences des courtiers de connaissances et au nouveau concept de « littéracie de l’impact ». Ce concept est mentionné pour la première fois sur le blogue de Julie, le 22 juin 2016.

It’s clear that impact is growing swiftly within international research agendas.  I’ve had many discussions recently with colleagues across various ponds for whom the dark cloud of impact is looming. Many seem to be looking to the UK to learn from our REF experience, and to be frank that’s not a bad idea at all.  Where impact is concerned it’s fair to say the UK is both specialised and battle-worn in equal measure. Unlike many of our international peers, our sector has been driven by centralised impact assessment, rather than broader dialogues of ‘benefits’ and ‘knowledge mobilisation’.  It is an approach with pros and cons, many of which we’re still unpicking.  Certainly the wonderfully engaged discussion at the recent ARMA Impact Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting at the annual conference shows just how much we still need to do to integrate, normalise and support impact in its most meaningful terms.

Impact for many of us is a good thing.  We welcome the focus on positively influencing the world beyond the university walls, and let’s face it, this in itself is not a new agenda.  For applied researchers (myself very much included), we have always sought to qualitatively contribute solutions to social problems.  However the more formal assessment driven (REF) impact agenda shifts such virtuous rhetoric towards reductionism and selectivity. REF is a bit like your mother in law who manages to completely overlook the 6 hours of cleaning you’ve done and focus instead on the speck of dust you’ve left behind the TV. It’s a one-off assessment which ignores how frantically you’ve cooked, ironed, and incentivised-your-children-to-behave-less-like-chimps. And like REF, usually results in a large glass of wine.

I don’t say this to dismiss REF.  If anything, REF has accelerated the importance of impact within academia and for that I am thankful.  With the puerile analogy above aside, I strongly urge those for whom impact is emerging to really take time to consider how impact ‘works’.  A formal impact agenda raises challenges across the academic sector, arguably posing most difficulties for fundamental research and that with less easily measurable endpoints (eg. arts and humanities).  Assessment-driven approaches risk reducing impact value to a small subset of narrowly demonstrated effects.  Unless we approach impact literately* and meaningfullywe will only ever firefight paths towards social effects.

In all of this, it’s crucial too that we don’t ignore the people.  Obviously it’s vital that we engage stakeholders and consider wider public benefit, and there’s excellent thought-leadership in these areas. However here I’m referring to a different group – impact practitioners themselves, be they the academic driving their own work or a research manager supporting a broader programme of work.  The impact sector has grown rapidly within the UK, and – as demonstrated through the wealth of experience and expertise in the ARMA Impact SIG – the sector would be foolish not to recognise the skills and capabilities so fundamental to translating research into effects.

Reducing impact to a measured subset of effects obscures the expertise needed for knowledge brokerage, culture change, partnership management, strategic planning and reconfiguration and many other things in combination.  If we are to create ‘good impact’ we need to recognise and invest in professional development amongst all those supporting this agenda.  And avoid bolting impact on as an afterthought. And understand how assessment models may drive behaviour. And how this may be judged by a Mother-in-Law-dust-seeking review**.

Let’s make the research count.  Properly.

*Impact literacy paper to come with the brilliant Dr David Phipps!! (@Researchimpact)

**My mother in law likes me. At least she hasn’t said otherwise

What is the Role of Scholarly Publishing in Research Impact? / Comment les publications savantes contribuent-elles à l’impact de la recherche ?

This was the question posed at the Society for Scholarly Publishing in a session on knowledge mobilization. Panelists spoke about the use of social media, videos and other forms of “creative dissemination” such as apps. David Phipps spoke about impacts of research beyond the academy derived from engaged methods of knowledge mobilization.

C’est la question qui était posée par la Society for Scholarly Publishing lors d’une rencontre sur la mobilisation des connaissances. Les panélistes ont parlé de l’utilisation des médias sociaux, de vidéos et d’autres formes de « dissémination créative », comme les applis. David Phipps a parlé de l’impact de la recherche à l’extérieur de l’université quand il est provoqué par des méthodes actives de mobilisation des connaissances.

The Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP), “founded in 1978, is a non-profit organization formed to promote and advance communication among all sectors of the scholarly publication community through networking, information dissemination, and facilitation of new developments in the field.” For SSP impact is measured in bibliometrics. It was a pleasure to receive their invitation to participate on a panel in Vancouver on June 2, 2016 to push them beyond academic dissemination and get them thinking about methods “beyond the PDF”.

Impact beyond dissemination

I was joined on the panel by Sarah Melton (@SVMelton, Emory Centre for Digital Scholarship) speaking about digital humanities and demonstrating an app developed for public history. Ben Mudrak (@BenMudrak, Research Square) spoke about the production of videos to enhance the reach of scholarship and Melinda Kenneway (@MelindaKenneway, Kudos) spoke about social media as tools to extend beyond scholarly dissemination. For creative dissemination methods impact is measured by reach metrics (views, downloads, social media analytics).

My presentation (slides available here) went beyond dissemination methods to speak about engaged methods of knowledge mobilization that create the conditions for impact beyond the academy. These impacts are measured by demonstrable changes in products, policy, practice and processes that benefit end users as told through narratives. The presentation ended with the question posed to the audience “what is the role of scholarly publishing and publishers in the research impact agenda?”

One interesting comment back was “Well unless we can make money doing it then we aren’t going to do it”. Melinda did a great job justifying the need for a new business model. My comment was that question is using an old business model to address a new paradigm. I suggested BetaMax asked the same question of VHS. And, more analogous, the music industry asked the same question about Napster.

Impact is now a regular feature of every grant application in Canada as exemplified by the knowledge mobilization strategy and outcomes statements in all SSHRC applications. The Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences announced a project to articulate impacts in October 2014.  In the UK impact is part of the Research Excellence Framework institutional assessment. In an environment where impact is becoming a regular part of academic scholarship and where funders such as CIHR, SSHRC and NSERC are requiring publications to be open access, publishers have yet to figure out their role and land on a new business model where research is available beyond the academy to be engaged in knowledge mobilization efforts.

Reflections of CARA 2016 / Réflexions sur l’ACAAR 2016

The ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) network has begun our annual spring road show exhibiting to stakeholders to listen to their needs and raise awareness of institutional supports for knowledge mobilization. We kicked off the road show with the Canadian Association of Research Administrators in Vancouver.

Le RéseauImpactRecherche–ResearchImpact (RIR) a entamé sa tournée printanière annuelle, qui nous permet de rencontrer les intervenants pour les écouter et connaitre leurs besoins, et de sensibiliser les responsables du soutien dans les établissements à la mobilisation des connaissances. Notre premier arrêt : l’Association canadienne des administratrices et des administrateurs de recherche (ACAAR), à Vancouver.

CARA ACAAR logoIt’s an annual occurrence for the RIR network. The opportunity to exhibit at CARA (formerly Canadian Association of University Research Administrators), the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA) provides brokers within RIR time and space to engage with research administrators from universities, colleges and academic health research institutions. Exhibiting affords us visibility to promote our network and the important work we do in Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) across Canada. We also field questions and expressions of interest from people who have KMb in their portfolio, or, understand their institution has emerging interests in KMb.

Set in a stunning part of Vancouver, RIR set up for two days of conversation and engagement in early May. Looking back, there are a few reflections that stand out:

Knowledge Mobilization is an increasing priority for research administrators. Pending roles, of course, attendees of CARA are much more familiar with KMb and the questions have shifted from ‘what’ to ‘how’. RIR is well positioned to answer both streams of inquiries. Fielding more than 40 participant conversations the discourse from research administrators is more sophisticated. People are seeking access to information, tools and resources to integrate responsibilities of KMb into their work. Here, I am very pleased to advise that RIR is listening and will be building services which will be accessible for the public in 2016-17. The questions from research administrators over the years have helped to inform this service development.

Michael at CARA

Michael Johnny at the RIR booth at CARA-ACAAR

CARA is an important space for RIR member engagement. Building on an excellent opportunity for networking and professional development, CARA is an excellent venue for RIR members who participate to meet and discuss unique aspects of our work (local and national). RIR members had a brief meeting (and photo). RIR members from Kwantlen,were able to present on their engagement work in KMb to a full room. The meeting opportunity also afforded myself a chance to have a separate meeting and deliver a workshop to Kwantlen staff, faculty and students.

Lastly, as an annual event CARA provides unique space for reflection. The questions and comments from participants are aligned with the growth, knowledge base and complexity of KMb service development and delivery. RIR members utilize a host of different staffing models and services to meet the KMb needs (and opportunities) of their institution and neighbouring community. In nine years now, it has been a privilege to see how this field of work has matured. Reunions with RIR alumni also make the time fun. Sharing stories and laughs of the early days of RIR further reflect the growth and development of our network.

Thanks to CARA for allowing us the space to meet and interact with an important group of people who have strong interests in our work. Vancouver was a success for us and your work around this annual conference has helped support our development in a very important way.

Vancouver scenery

Post Cards from Congress – Day 6 – Until next time!

It’s been another great Congress! We have talked to over 180 delegates representing 40 different post-secondary institutions.

The conversations have been engaging and informative. There has been a lot of interest from researchers at institutions who are not currently part of ResearchImpact to learn how they can become part of the network.

We added a few new items to our booth this year and people seem to really like our new RIR postcards and the KMb planning checklist we brought.

Thanks to the Federation for organizing another excellent Congress. Everything ran very smoothly for us as always.

And a special thanks to the University of Calgary and the City of Calgary for hosting the delegates. I have really enjoyed my time here.

See you next year in Toronto at Ryerson University!

Bow River

Post Cards from Congress – Day 5- Begin at the Beginning

Bow River walking trailThe last few years I have been at Congress, I have noticed that the conversations have changed from the ones I used to have in the early years. Back then, I spent a lot of time explaining what knowledge mobilization is, whereas now I talk a lot about how to do KMb.

While I have enjoyed this shift in the conversation, it has made me assume that everyone knows about knowledge mobilization. I realized this isn’t always the case yesterday when I was talking to a young woman who stopped by the booth. After giving her my usual pitch about who we are and how we help our researchers at York with their knowledge mobilization needs, she asked a number of questions about what KMb was exactly. So I switched to my KMb 101 talk instead and gave her some foundational information about the principles of KMb and some of the common methods used by researchers to connect their research with community partners.

As someone about to start her Masters degree, she had never heard of KMb or even the concept of making research accessible and relevant to society. The quote of the day was when she exclaimed, “This is so exciting!” She had worked in her local community on a social enterprise project and really liked the idea of doing research what would be relevant to her community.

It was an exciting conversation for me as well, as it reminded me why I enjoy working in KMb. And it also reminded me not to assume everyone who stops by the booth already knows what KMb is and that I sometimes need to begin at the beginning.

Post Cards from Congress – Day 4 – 3, 31 and 45

Yesterday was one of the busiest days the RIR booth has ever had at a Congress.  We’re always pleased to talk #KMb at Congress and over the years we’re experiencing a shift toward a culture of engaged scholarship to which KMb is a central part of.  The title may seem odd, and I have not shared my locker combination.  Allow me to explain:

3 – Yesterday saw three organizations approach us with strong interest in our services.  While this is nothing new, they are national organizations with interests in engaging with academic research (and researchers).  Learning more about RIR there are clearly opportunities for us to actively engage these organizations.  Making these contacts at Congress are invaluable, as it is always possible that these relationships can flourish across our network into something substantive.

31 – One of our central purposes for exhibiting at Congress is to engage with universities who are not members of RIR.  We provide information to help researchers take back to their institution to inform senior research administration around the value proposition of RIR membership.  We have an open call for new members.  Yesterday, we had 31 distinct universities and colleges approach us seeking information on RIR.  So much so we need to print more information packages for others who may drop by over the next three days.

45 – this is how many purposeful conversations we hosted yesterday.  And while I can’t confirm it was a record, it was impressive to see faculty, students and interested non-academic organizations seeking to engage around KMb and the services of RIR.  People are impressed with the institutional investments our member universities have made in KMb.  Many of my colleagues may get an email or call from researchers who have grabbed your card and will be seeking more information on how you can support them.

It was a great day yesterday at University of Calgary.  I suspect today will produce more of the same!

Post Cards from Congress – Day 3 – Hump Day at Congress

The days of the week become less relevant when you’re participating in an 8-day conference which includes the weekend.  Including set up day, last Friday, yesterday was the mid-point of what has been a productive and enjoyable Congress.

For RIR, our objectives for exhibiting are to speak about KMb with conference delegates and also to promote RIR to institutions who are currently not members.  But over nine years now, and given our leadership in KMb, Congress has become much more than just promotional conversation.  Yesterday was a great microcosm of our engagement at Congress:

  • Networking – We have developed significant relationships with key national leaders such as SSHRC, the Federation and MITACS. Congress is an important space to meet and interact, to update and explore possibilities.
  • Information Sharing – RIR are now being approached to participate in meetings, panel presentations and scholarly interviews around KMb and Engaged Scholarship. It was a busy day for us at the RIR booth, and within Congress.  We’re pleased to be seen in this way and make important contributions in KMb.
  • Exhibiting – Yesterday we had over 25 dedicated conversations about RIR and KMb with more than 10 universities who are not currently in our network. We’re sharing information which researchers can share back to their senior administration about RIR membership.  We’re also sharing some KMb tools on how we provide service and support at our member institutions to help demonstrate the value proposition of our service model.

Conversations ranged yesterday from prospective graduate students, to senior faculty (including retired faculty) all of whom come at KMb with differing experiences and opinions.  The dialogue is important to help push us to better understand KMb from the researchers’ perspective.  We’re halfway done for 2016…but in terms of RIR and its commitment to service…we’re just beginning!  If you’re at Congress come visit us!

Calgary

Post Cards from Congress – Day 2 “This is so amazing”

Building your knowledge mobilization strategy in grant applications

The audience at Congress is primarily faculty and students in the humanities and social sciences. And since every SSHRC grant requires a knowledge mobilization strategy today was filled with researchers asking how to create a knowledge mobilization plan. We shared the process we undertake at York while pointing out that each ResearchImpact university will have its own unique services and tools.

We first sit with the researcher to understand the research. We then ask the researcher four questions that we have synthesized from Melanie Barwick’s Knowledge Translation Planning Template (www.melamiebarwick.com):

  1. Who are you partners and/or audiences you will work with?
  2. With those partners co-construct the goals of your knowledge mobilization – what are you hoping to accomplish together?
  3. What are the activities you will do to help meet your goals?
  4. What are the metrics and indicators you will use to assess if your activities have helped you reach your goals?

If you have one page for your knowledge mobilization strategy write four paragraphs. If you have four pages dedicate one page to each of these questions.

It was gratifying to see the light bulb go off for researchers who struggle to articulate a coherent knowledge mobilization strategy. One researcher exclaimed, “This is so amazing!”

We were asked if we have an on line tool to create a knowledge mobilization strategy by answering questions. The answer is no. Each research project is unique and it requires a unique  knowledge mobilization strategy. It is not something that lends itself to formulaic processes. Instead knowledge brokers work hands on with researcher, students and their partners to craft specific knowledge mobilization strategies.

For more tools and tips on knowledge mobilization drop by the ResearchImpact booth at Congress.
congress logo

Post Cards from Congress – Day 1

How to do knowledge mobilization and how to join ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche?

Welcome back to Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities (#congressh) organized every year by the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences and this year hosted by the University of Calgary. Each year ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) exhibits as a leading Canadian example of knowledge mobilization services and supports to help researchers, students and their non-academic partners work together to maximize the impacts of research.

At Congress our primary audience is researchers and students. Nine years ago when we first attended Congress the delegates had no clue about knowledge mobilization. We usually get two questions:

1. I know I need to know about knowledge mobilization but….what is it?
2. Why isn’t my university a member of RIR and how can we join?

The answer to #1 includes providing some tools for researchers to consider when crafting knowledge mobilization strategies in grant applications and/or working with partners. The answer to #2 involves sharing information on the benefits and responsibilities of institutional membership in RIR.

These remain substantially similar to our call for new members in 2013.

Come by the RIR booth at Congress for more insights into institutional knowledge mobilization.

Michael Johnny at the RIR booth